DURHAM, NC - FEBRUARY 18:  Grayson Allen #3 of the Duke Blue Devils looks to pass against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons during their game at Cameron Indoor Stadium on February 18, 2017 in Durham, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

No. 12 Duke outlasts Wake Forest in shootout

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Duke’s potent offense emerged and six players finished in double-figures as the No. 12 Blue Devils held off Wake Forest 99-94 for an ACC home win.

The Demon Deacons missed a chance to tie with under 30 seconds left but Bryant Crawford missed a difficult driving layup and Amile Jefferson closed out the game at the free-throw line.

The Blue Devils (22-5, 10-4) had a tough time getting late defensive stops, and they missed a few late free throws to keep Wake Forest in the game, but the Blue Devils also couldn’t be stopped on the offensive end.

Luke Kennard paced Duke with a team-high 23 points while Jayson Tatum added 19 points — including two key free throws with 31.1 seconds left to make it a three-point game. Jefferson (16 points), Frank Jackson (12 points), Grayson Allen (11 points) and Matt Jones (10 points) also finished in double-figures for the Blue Devils.

Duke’s defense is going to continue to be a big concern down the stretch and I’m not sure how they fix it. They’re going to this smaller lineup because it is so effective on offense but Jefferson at the five offers minimal rim protection and a lot of the team’s perimeter defenders are average at best. The Blue Devils don’t need to turn into a shutdown team with an offense as good as this, but they can’t let opposing teams get to the rim whenever they want and score with ease as we saw on Saturday.

Wake Forest (15-12, 6-9) did everything they could to stay in this one but they’ll just end up with two very close losses to Duke during the regular season. Big man John Collins continued to show that he’s one of the best players in the ACC with 31 points and 15 rebounds. Crawford added 21 points while Keyshawn Woods added 13 points.

The Demon Deacons found themselves down for most of the second half but they fought as hard as possible to stay in this one. One notable thing about the end of this game is how Wake Forest went away from Collins with less than two minutes left. While Wake Forest often found themselves down by three or four points during this stretch, they forced a lot of contested looks — some of them two-pointers — as they ended up falling.

It’ll be interesting to see if Collins becomes more of an offensive focal point down the stretch of tight games. Wake Forest still has three games left and two of them are coming at home against Pitt and Louisville while they still travel to Virginia Tech. For Wake to feel comfortable about its postseason chances they probably need to win two of those three games.

Terminally ill former player attends Duke-UNC as ‘bucket list’ game

DURHAM, NC - FEBRUARY 09:  Justin Jackson #44 of the North Carolina Tar Heels throws the ball in against the Duke Blue Devils during their game at Cameron Indoor Stadium on February 9, 2017 in Durham, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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Duke and North Carolina played another game in their storied rivalry last week. Although the two ACC juggernauts hold quite a long grudge against one another, the two programs teamed up to make something special happen for a terminal breast cancer patient.

Melanie Pearson Day, a 38-year-old mother of three, is battling stage IV terminal breast cancer. A former player at BYU, the native of Lehi, Utah was told by doctors that she has two to five years to live.

Day is battling cancer but she also remains a passionate basketball fan. Seeing the Duke and North Carolina rivalry up close was always Day’s priority as a basketball fan.

In a great story from Jeff Call of the Deseret News, Day received a special trip to be apart of one of the best rivalry in sports.

From Call’s story:

Day learned more than a month ago that she and her husband, Preston, would be checking off the No. 1 item on her bucket list by attending last Thursday’s basketball game between arch-rivals Duke and North Carolina at iconic Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Her weeklong experience in the Tar Heel State surpassed anything she could have imagined. For Day, it might have been the perfect week.

“I’ve dreamed of this for 25 years,” said Day, a former BYU women’s basketball player. “I grew up thinking, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to go to this game someday?’ When I put it on my bucket list, on my blog, never did I actually think I’d get tickets to it. Then I got tickets and I went to the game, but it was so much more than that. It’s like a basketball fantasy.”

Not only did Day get see the Duke and North Carolina game from the third row behind the Duke bench but she also attended closed practices for both teams and spent time with both Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams.

Day’s dream trip is told in great detail in Call’s story and I highly recommend you check it out.

Three Takeaways from N.C. State’s win over No. 17 Duke

DURHAM, NC - JANUARY 23:  Head coach Mark Gottfried talks to Dennis Smith Jr. #4 of the North Carolina State Wolfpack during their win against the Duke Blue Devils at Cameron Indoor Stadium on January 23, 2017 in Durham, North Carolina. North Carolina State won 84-82.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
(Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
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Freshman Dennis Smith Jr. had a monster performance as he scored 32 points and had six assists to lead the Wolfpack past No. 17 Duke for an ACC road win.

Here are three takeaways for an important win for N.C. State.

1. This is the Dennis Smith Jr. (and N.C. State) that we envisioned 

Before this season N.C. State received a lot of hype with some pundits — including NBCSports.com — because people knew that freshman Dennis Smith Jr. was a lottery pick talent and there were other pieces around him that could be productive. Smith has mostly lived up to his top-five hype this season but Monday night’s game saw the North Carolina native go to another level.

Smith comes from a family of N.C. State fans. It is part of the reason he selected the Wolfpack even though they aren’t a one-and-done factory like some other schools. The Wolfpack hadn’t won in Cameron Indoor Stadium since 1995 and this year’s N.C. State had lost four of five ACC games entering Monday.

And Smith went completely bonkers. He finished with 32 points and six assists as he was 4-for-6 from three-point range.

At the end of the first half when it looked like Duke might take a double-digit lead into the break, Smith converted a three-point play and followed it up with a tough, contested three to make it a six-point game. The second half saw more of the same from Smith as he nailed pull-up threes, got to the rim and finished through traffic. It was the type of mesmerizing performance that gets casual basketball fans excited about a player before March Madness begins.

Smith wasn’t the only good player for N.C. State on Monday. Freshman big man Ted Kapita gave crucial minutes inside as he registered his first career double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds. Abdul Malik-Abu was a great secondary option for Smith as he contributed 19 points and nine rebounds. Maverick Rowan (nine points) hit a key late three and some important free throws.

When this team has all of its pieces going you can see why so many people believed N.C. State was capable of the Sweet 16. It feels like this team could be in for a run and the road game at Louisville on Sunday is another major test.

2. Duke is still figuring out its ideal rotation (while getting some answers)

Interim coach Jeff Capel went to some interesting lineup choices on Monday night. Capel started the game by using the lineup that jumpstarted Duke’s second half against Miami. That meant increased minutes for freshman center Marques Bolden as he was paired with Jayson Tatum (16 points) and Frank Jackson.

Seniors Matt Jones and Amile Jefferson were the interchangeable parts who played the most minutes in the first half for the Blue Devils and the second unit included Grayson Allen (13 points), Luke Kennard (20 points) and Harry Giles.

The Blue Devils still have some disjointed sets and scorers are still struggling to play with Tatum at times but there were some promising signs. Giles (eight points, seven rebounds) continues to improve his natural timing and he knocked down a face-up jumper from 17 feet with ease that could help keep defenders honest on him.

There was some good but there was also some bad. Bolden regressed to being a non-factor once again and Allen struggled to find a consistent scoring touch with a 4-for-13 performance.

We still have yet to see the (mostly) full strength Blue Devils that make us believe they are a national title contender. It’ll be interesting to see which lineup ultimately plays the best for Duke but they’re struggling to figure out a consistent rotation.

3. Can N.C. State sustain this kind of effort on a nightly basis?

Monday night was N.C. State’s first road win of the season. So for as big as this win is, the Wolfpack still have a long way to go to becoming a consistent factor in a ridiculously deep ACC. Smith is going to get tested quite a bit by Louisville’s length and athleticism on Sunday and playing in front of that Cardinal crowd is one of the hardest things to do in college basketball.

It doesn’t get any easier for N.C. State and they can’t have a major letdown after the high of a road win like this. That losing stretch of four out of five games included some really bad losses. Boston College, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest are the kind of losses that tournament teams can’t sustain on a regular basis so the Wolfpack have to take care of  business against teams like that for the rest of the season.

Success on the road will also help N.C. State’s tournament cause. This Duke win is nice but now the Wolfpack get two more cracks at top-15 teams away from home with Louisville and Florida State in the next two weeks. If N.C. State can somehow split those road games and stay strong at home they’ll be in good shape the rest of the way.

No. 8 Duke uses balanced effort to get past Boston College in Coach K’s first game out

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Playing its first game without head coach Mike Krzyzewski, No. 8 Duke raced out to a double-digit lead and held on for a 93-82 win on Saturday in the ACC.

The Blue Devils received a balanced effort in this one as six players finished in double-figures, led by freshman Jayson Tatum with 22 points. In his second game back from suspension, junior Grayson Allen once again played more of a facilitator role as he finished with 12 points and 11 assists while going 5-for-9 from the field.

Freshman Frank Jackson added 15 points for the Blue Devils while forward Harry Giles continues to progress in his recovery as he went 5-for-8 from the field to also finish with 12 points. Amile Jefferson chipped in 11 points while Matt Jones finished with 10.

Considering that All-American candidate Luke Kennard (nine points, 2-for-6 shooting) only looked like a role player, it shows you how deep this Duke team can look at times with Giles now on the floor.

Duke (14-2, 2-1) struggled a little bit in the second half to put away a feisty Boston College team, but this one never was seriously in concern. Interim coach Jeff Capel is now 1-0 this season as he was able to get through the first-game jitters of coaching this team without Coach K (back surgery) for the next month or so.

The Eagles (8-8, 1-2) had a solid rally in the second half but ultimately fell short as Jerome Robinson had 21 points and Ky Bowman had 19 points.

This win for Duke ultimately won’t mean much outside of being Coach K’s first game away from the sidelines. But it’s nice to get this game out of the way before an important road stretch that includes road games at Florida State and Louisville next week. Those two games should really tell us where Duke is at for these next few weeks without its coach.

Duke ends Grayson Allen’s suspension after one game as Blue Devils crush Georgia Tech

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 06:  Grayson Allen #3 of the Duke Blue Devils looks on against the Florida Gators in the second half during the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden on December 6, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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College basketball’s biggest villain returned to action on Wednesday night.

Duke junior guard Grayson Allen started for the No. 8 Blue Devils as they returned to national-title-contender form with a convincing 110-57 ACC home win over Georgia Tech.

Allen finished with 15 points and seven assists as he returned from an indefinite suspension in which he sat out one game. The junior was on the sidelines during a Duke loss over the weekend at Virginia Tech and and didn’t play in a game for two weeks.

There are going to be opinions all over the internet about why Allen was allowed back into Duke’s lineup after only missing one game — especially since he committed his third tripping incident in two years in the win over Elon and subsequently had a meltdown on the Blue Devil bench.

Was he allowed back because Duke lost to Virginia Tech? Did Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski want to get Allen back in the rotation prior to his month away from the sidelines while he recovers from surgery and Jeff Capel takes over as interim coach?

It might be impossible to really know why Allen was allowed back without those parties answering but after two weeks away from game action it was probably time for Allen to return. No matter how much people love to complain about his dirty plays he had to return to the team eventually.

Now that we’ve entered conference play, I’m tired of spending so much time talking about a dirty play when there have been plenty of other great players with bad tempers. I don’t blame Coach K for bringing Allen back if he feels that he is mature enough to return to the floor. If people want more of a hardline stance against Allen’s actions, they can take that up with the ACC since they don’t have a rule calling for suspensions after such incidents.

Location also could be a factor in the decision to have Allen come back. The return for Allen comes at home the next two games as it allows Allen to get comfortable playing again with the fully healthy Duke rotation while sheltering him from opposing crowds for a little bit longer.

Home games against Georgia Tech and Boston College are a nice way for Allen to get back in rhythm before going to Florida State and Louisville to play back-to-back road games. Asking Allen to make a potential return on the road could have been a lot to ask since you know he is going to hear it from fans — as he justifiably should.

The time away from game action also appears to have helped Allen heal from a nagging toe injury that hampered him at the start of the season. A quicker and bouncier Allen got off to a fast start with 13 points and five assists in the first half as the Blue Devils jumped out to a 31-point halftime lead.

With Allen looking healthy and in control the Blue Devils’ offense hit another level that we’ve only seen from Kentucky and UCLA — teams full of blue-chip players moving the ball and hitting shots and doing whatever they want on offense.

Don’t mistake Georgia Tech for any kind of NCAA Tournament team, but the Yellow Jackets did beat North Carolina soundly and Duke made them look like a Division III team in the first half with Allen back in the starting lineup.

Duke doesn’t have to be in crisis mode after the Virginia Tech loss, as the defense was much improved and Allen’s return energized a balanced offensive effort in which he acted more as a facilitator than a scorer. Allen only needed five field goal attempts to reach 15 points as he was 7-for-7 from the free-throw line and gave easy looks to teammates.

But we do have to see how Duke responds to heading on the road to Florida State and Louisville next week. Those two ACC teams are NCAA tournament-caliber opponents and the Blue Devils will have the unique distractions of Coach K’s absence as well as Allen’s first road games on the floor since the return from his suspension.

The national title picture doesn’t have a clear No. 1 team at the moment but we might get a better sense of where Duke is in that discussion if they can handle that road stretch well.

Report: Grayson Allen no longer a team captain for Duke

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 06:  Grayson Allen #3 of the Duke Blue Devils reacts against the Florida Gators in the first half during the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden on December 6, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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Duke junior Grayson Allen began his indefinite suspension last week as Allen sat out his first game on Saturday. The No. 5 Blue Devils lost on the road, 89-75, at Virginia Tech to open up ACC play as Allen watched the action from the bench.

After the game, Steve Wiseman of the Durham Herald-Sun reported that Allen is no longer a team captain for Duke. Seniors Amile Jefferson and Matt Jones will be the team’s captains now.

After being involved in his third tripping incident of the last two seasons during Duke’s win over Elon last week, Allen was suspended indefinitely as this appears to be the latest step in his punishment for the dirty play — and his subsequent reaction on the bench.